Category Archives: Kurdistan Region

The courage of Nadia Murad and recognizing crimes

The fate of the thousands of Yezidi’s under the hands of Islamic State (IS) has come to epitomize the brutality of the group. Thanks to the courage and determination of Nadia Murad and some prominent Western figures, the plight of the Yezidi community may finally receive the international focus it deserves.

Over two years since the atrocities in Sinjar, thousands of Yezidi girls remain under barbaric condition as sex slaves. In addition to the thousands of women and girls, thousands more men and boys were systematically slaughtered.

Murad, is a young Yezidi who was captured by IS in 2014. She witnessed the murder of six of her brothers before she was subjected to sexual and physical abuse along with thousands of other girls. She was sold as a slave a number of times before managing to escape.

The bravery of Murad and her determination to the take the Yezidi plight first hand to the international arena saw her travel to Europe and the United States. She recounted her experience first-hand to international audiences, including the UN Security Council in December 2015 where she briefed the first ever session on human trafficking on her experiences.

Murad stated at the time, “their cruelty was not merely opportunistic. The ISIS soldiers came with a pre-established policy to commit such crimes.”

Fitting of Murad’s courage and efforts to highlight the crimes against the Yezidi, she was announced in September as the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Nadia that “there is no greater testament to human resilience and the spirit of solidarity than the strength, dignity, and extraordinary courage you show everyday in telling your story and working for a better world.”

Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani congratulated Murad on her appointment and vowed to provide her all the support she needs.

Recounting her story at the United Nations upon her appointment, she urged the Islamic world to stand with her against IS before adding “I call the international community to take actions and rescue Yezidi captives.”

Renowned Human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney has been instrumental in highlighting the Yezidi plight in spite of the obvious threats to her safety this entails. A high profile figure such as Clooney, who now represents Murad, brings much needed clout in efforts to recognise the genocide against the Yezidi.

Sitting side-by-side with Nadia at the United Nations, Amal denounced IS’s “bureaucracy of evil” and the “industrial scale” of IS crimes against the Yezidis.

Clooney stated her shame as a lawyer that nothing was being done about IS crimes and her shame as a woman that the likes of Nadia could endure such abuse.

Whilst the suffering of the Yezidis is beginning to receive the attention it deserves, it should not mask the lack of action from the international community. It has now been over two years since the acts of genocide took place and the Western powers only reacted in August 2014 when the crimes had long been committed.

Furthermore, it begs the question whether Western powers could have done more to prevent the rapid rise of IS in the first place.

The fact that thousands of girls remain in IS custody is a stain on the international community. There is little doubt that the reaction would have been much fiercer if the captured girls were of American or European descent.

Murad summed up perfectly when she addressed a recent UN refugee and migrants summit, “if beheading, sexual enslavement, child rape, if all those acts will not force you to act, what will?”

First Published: Kurdistan 24

 

New ceasefire plan and Kurdish angle in any Syrian settlement

The latest Syrian ceasefire plan between the United States (US) and Russia that was hoped to form the foundations for an elusive peace deal came to an abrubt and controversial end. Much like previous ceasefires, the latest planquickly unravelled as the regime’s forces and the rebel groups violated the agreements. Consequently, any peace plan excluding any of the major components of the Syrian society, including the Syrian Kurds, will likely fail.

If the latest ceasefire was able to hold for  at least a week, the intention was to establish a Russian-US Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would see Russia and U.S. in a symbolic coordination of air strikes on Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front targets.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the joint implementation center would allow Russian and US forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition”. However, agreement on what the terrorist list would include proved a difficult proposition. Moscow and Damascus have long insisted that all groups taking up arms against the regime are terrorists.

Moreover, groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which renamed itself from the al-Nusra Front to distance itself from al-Qaeda, are deeply intertwined with so-called moderates. The task of delineating zones that are permissible for attacks by the new Russian-US command was always going to be challenging.

There are dozens of rebel groups in Syria, and the US will have a difficult job in reigning all these groups, many who are increasingly distrustful of Washington and suspicious about US plans to work directly with the Russians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had stated that if the deal could be implemented it would “provide a turning point, a moment of change.”

But the multi-pronged Syrian war is far from been straightforward. If upholding a ceasefire was difficult enough, then a long-term peace deal after five years of bloodshed is even more challenging.

And one of these vital angles to any ceasefire agreement and any long-term peace deal is the Syrian Kurds amidst Turkish anxiety.

The Syrian landscape was already complex enough before Turkey’s sudden intervention. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are key allies of the U.S. in the fight against the IS in Syria, but Turkey entered Syria with one eye on IS but with a deeper gaze on pushing back YPG forces that they deem as “terrorists.”

With Turkey venturing deeper into Syria to strike Kurdish positions south of Jarablus, increasing battles between both sides has alarmed the US.

As Russia urged the Kurds and FSA forces to halt fighting, YPG released statements that they intended to abide by the US-Russian  ceasefire agreement. This was unlikely to be reciprocal from Ankara for a group that it deems as terrorists, meaning that there is little prospect of  any calm between YPG and Turkish-backed forces.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently hit back at recent concerns raised by Washington and some European powers such as Germany over clashes with Kurdish forces.

Erdogan insisted that they would not allow a “terror corridor” on their border and refuted US claims that YPG forces had relocated east of the Euphrates, “we will not believe that the YPG or PYD crossed east of the Euphrates by listening to statements in the US.”

Turkey has stated they are not in Syria for the long haul, but the pro-Turkish Syrian rebels rely heavily on Turkish support to hold gains, making it inevitable that a “safe-zone” will remain in force.

For any real peace agreement in Syria to last, Turkey, Russia and the US must strike a deal on the Kurds. There appears to be a much better platform for a deal on Syria between Ankara and Moscow.

The recent statement from Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildrim, who stated that after normalizing ties with Russia and Israel, “Turkey has taken a serious initiative to normalise relations with Syria”, highlights this.

Other than terror corridor referred to by Ankara, Kurds rule large parts of northern Syria which Turkey deems as a “terrorist” zone. It is not clear how Turkey intends to tackle this long-term and if the US and Russia will continue to support the Kurds.

In the multi-pronged and intricate Syrian civil war, the principal elements, including the Kurds, must be appeased before any peace deal or ceasefire could ultimately stick.

How “iconic images” of suffering become meaningless

Often within the borders of European countries, any murders, loss of life or missing children, receive broad coverage. A famous case of a missing British child in Portugal in 2007 led to a protracted search costing millions. Recently, a young child who died following a fatal dog bite in the UK was one of the headlines on BBC News and received wide media coverage.

Let’s be very clear. It’s not that such cases are not deserving or insignificant. Anyone with a child will know they will give up the world and more for their kid. Children are priceless gifts that no amount of power or riches can ever compensate.

It’s a fact that the West often narrows its focus of tragedies to internal borders. Massacres, humanitarian catastrophes and acts of genocide do not always get the full justice they deserve.

Take the thousands of Yezidi girls who remain under the brutal hands of ISIS with little media coverage, what would be the reaction if the girls were English or French?

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, recently stressed that “… it is of paramount importance that the perpetrators of these heinous acts (against the Yezidis) are fully and properly held to account.”

Unfortunately, on the second anniversary of crimes against the Yezidis, thousands of girls remain under barbaric captivity.

As the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have highlighted, the West is only alarmed and outraged only when it’s on their doorstep. The other daily terrorist attacks or atrocities in places like Iraq and Syria are seen as distant lands.

Then every so often, the West is shocked by so-called “iconic images” of war. This week it was the shocking picture of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, injured and dazed from a deadly airstrike in Aleppo. Omran, along with his three siblings and parents were pulled from the rubble of their apartment building.

According to one of the rescue workers, they tried to speak to Omran as they took him to the ambulance but he said nothing. Even iconic pictures never tell the full story. Omran was relatively calm and not tearful and screaming as we would expect. It is because Omran had already cried his lungs out from fear, pain, and solitude amongst the piles of rubble.

Mustafa al-Sarout, the Aleppo-based journalist who filmed the video of Omran, decried “these are children bombed every day. It’s not an exceptional case”.

19th August marked World Humanitarian Day that commemorates the devastating bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 mostly aid workers.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering,” as he emphasized for people to raise their voice against injustice and work for change.

However, the reflection of misery should never rise as a result of a single day or iconic images. These milestones come and go, but the suffering continues.

Kurdistan is no stranger to such a predicament. It suffered decades of repression and genocide in Iraq culminating in the unforgivable chemical bombing of Halabja. Pictures of dead mothers and fathers holding on to their babies symbolized the grave murders.

While the event was largely forgotten as the population continued to suffer physical and mental trauma. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell when visiting a cemetery filled with lines of headstones of Halabja victims in 2003, stated “What can I say to you? I cannot tell you that the world should have acted sooner, you know that.”

Closely connected with Western view of iconic images of war is effect of Western foreign policy itself. For example, in Syria, the US and EU response was too tentative as the Syrian crisis deepened and the Syrian regime crossed various red lines. Then action against ISIS was only taken after they had had long established their influence, overran cities such as Mosul and killed thousands of Christians and Yezidis.

European powers became more entrenched against ISIS when they witnessed terror first-hand on home soil.

The view of Bradley A. Blakeman in News Max echoed many others, “ISIS should have never been able to attain the power and gain the territory it has…Why did they not build a coalition earlier to stop them? Why did we not have a strategy? Why did we not stop them?”

Ultimately, the West is too often swayed by the aftermath of events. Just like in Kurdistan, Srebrenica and Rwanda, there is a post mortem on western foreign policy and how such crimes were allowed to be perpetrated when it is too late.

Iconic images change little when cities are left to rubble, communities remain starving under siege and millions of people are left displaced.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The liberation of Mosul rest on the Kurds

If the liberation of Ramadi, Tikrit, Sinjar and more recently Manbij in Syria proved painful and tricky leading to streams of refugees, then Mosul will prove much worse.

Islamic State (IS) has held Mosul for over two years. If the liberation was anything other than bloody and complicated, then it would not have taken months of planning.

The battle for Mosul raises more questions than answers for Baghdad. IS would not have rolled into Mosul with such ease if it did not have support of some locals and various other armed Sunni groups. Without addressing the sectarian discord that plagued Mosul and Sunni heartlands long before IS was even established, the post-liberation of Mosul will provide much trickier to manoeuvre.

Then there is the thousands of civilians that will flee the city, mostly like to the relative safety of Kurdistan. Kurdistan already houses 1.8 million internally displaces persons at a great financial burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

The Iraqi Defence Minister Khalid Obeidi recently warned that the Iraqi government will not allow the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate the city of Mosul. This was compounded by threats from Shia Popular Mobilization Units for Kurdish forces not to enter Mosul.

Ironically, the Shiite militias are likely to play a more effective role than the actual Iraqi army in any battle for Mosul. If Peshmerga are deemed as too sensitive to be deployed within the mainly Sunni city, then the presence of these militias will hardly soothe sectarian tensions. At least, there is a large population of Kurds in Mosul.

For all these warnings, there is no way that Mosul can be liberated without the support of the Peshmerga regardless of any coalition firepower. This was acknowledged by Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who stated that Mosul operations without the Peshmerga will be impossible. However, Barzani stressed that “they will have supportive role but will not enter the city”.

The importance of the Peshmerga is not lost on the United States who relies heavily on the Kurdish forces. This culminated in a recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between US and Kurdish officials in recent weeks that included provisions of military support to the Peshmerga forces.

Too often US has tip-toed around Baghdad when dealing with the Kurds due to political sensitivities but with the huge sacrifices of the Peshmerga, their critical role both now and the future and the much changed socio-political landscape in Iraq across the Middle East, the Kurds must be dealt with in their own right.

It’s disrespectful to Kurdish sacrifices to deal with Kurdistan through Baghdad when both zones are separated from each other and the Kurds have been all bu

Separating the right of Kurdish independence from the right regional, political or economic climate

If an ethnic group ever deserved an award for patience and perseverance then it is the Kurds. Still the largest nation without a state, the Kurds are told to bide their time for independence or worse are threatened by its consequences.

One hundred years have passed since the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and it is approaching the centenial of the respective Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne.  The truth is, Kurdistan may be embroiled in a valiant battle against the Islamic State (IS) today and in many ways carry the global fight against the group, but their struggle for existence and freedom is nothing new.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani announced plans to hold a referendum as far back as July 2014 when Iraqi forces rapidly collapsed under IS attacks. This intention was renewed with repeated plans to hold a referendum by end of 2016.

Skeptics point to the difficult fight against IS, Kurdistan’s economic crisis, retaliation from neighboring powers, the instability engulfing the rest of Iraq and so on.

However, if Kurdistan ties its independence to a perfect moment in Iraq and the Middle East then independence will remain a distant dream. The Kurds must not equate their right of independence with a perfect regional, political or economic climate.

If independence was based on buy-in from all sides, a flourishing economy and a perfect democratic and social system, then dozens of sovereign countries would not exist today. On the contrary, independence will give the Kurds a strong hand to dictate fiscal matters such as devaluing their currency, printing money and borrowing from international markets.

Moreover, the independence of Kurdistan should not be a piecemeal measure.  Even Saddam Hussein was willing to give the Kurds substantial autonomy with the exception of Kirkuk.

Kurdistan should declare independence and a referendum is the right and legal platform. As governed by United Nations charters, the voice of the people in deciding their fate is vital. Many nations have declared their independence in such a manner and the fate of many disputed cities has been resolved via plebiscites.

Abandoning the legal notion of self-determination and asking permission from Western powers, Ankara, Baghdad, and Tehran is a sure path to failure.

The Kurds have suffered under the hands of such governments and struggled for even basic rights, why should the fate of millions of Kurds and a legal right be placed in their hands once more?

Kurdistan has a rich array of ethnicities and religions. Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Shabaks, Yezidis and Christians have enjoyed a historical foothold in these lands. This very coexistence should be heralded across the West and serve as a model of co-existence across the Middle East.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

 

The implications of the PUK-Gorran deal on the Kurdistan political scene

The recent agreement between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change Movement (Gorran) serves to shake up the Kurdish political scene from a number of angles.

The once unthinkable deal was declared a win-win by both sides but highlighted the difficult state of Kurdish politics as it traverses through a highly sensitive juncture in its history.

Gorran broke away from the PUK in 2009 and this new agreement feels more like a reunion after a bitter divorce. Gorran’s rise was all about shaking up the political scene and promoting a populist agenda that sought to the break duopoly in Kurdistan.

But although Gorran commands a respectable number of seats in parliament (24), it has witnessed the limitations of populist movements and working in the shadows of KDP-PUK. Gorran has limited influence over the things that really matter such as security, foreign relations and finances.

PUK on other hand has been navigating through its own crisis in recent years especially in light of embarrassing ballot defeats to Gorran and a leadership crisis as their long-time leader Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.

PUK was essentially been carried by the KDP and thus it’s traditional counter-weight role to the KDP was lost.

The KDP have been uncontested leaders of Kurdistan political scene ever since PUK went to decline and Gorran, although a popular party could do little more than work as an opposition force and a nuisance in parliament.

Therefore, it was unsurprising that the PUK-Gorran deal was met with great skepticism by the KDP. They see it as a union to undermine their strong hand in Kurdish affairs.

As the PUK and Gorran vowed to enter the 2017 elections on the same ballot, it simultaneously ends the old strategic alliance between the PUK and KDP. The KDP currently holds 38 seats in parliament as opposed to Gorran which has 24 and PUK 18. In other words, PUK-Gorran alliance would become the biggest bloc, unleashing a scramble for seats from Islamic Parties.

The Islamic Parties find themselves in a strong position as wild-cards. They will insist on range of demands and then have the task of choosing either the KDP or PUK-Gorran.

The PUK-Gorran deal will inevitably serve to dilute KDP influence and grip on Kurdish affairs but things in Kurdistan are never that easy. The KDP will play its own strategic cards in face of the changing political scene.

Whilst the PUK-Gorran deal will help break the current political deadlock in one way or another, it also threatens to intensify the old dividing lines between KDP and PUK administrations and stoke a new phase of disunity.

At the same time, such disunity will open the doors for Turkey, Iran and other powers to take advantage through meddling in economic, military and strategic ties.

Either way, the matter should not be about what is best for KDP, PUK or Gorran. This is not merely a game between political parties for the top positions or score settling between the respective party leaders.

It ultimately has to benefit the Kurdish people and that of Kurdistan. Anything less than, will serve as a great setback to Kurdistan at a sensitive stage in its history.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Erbil Deserves Equal Focus as Baghdad

As Iraq continued to make slow but steady gains against the Islamic State (IS), politicians were equally busy with scuffling and fighting of their own in parliament as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform drive continued to hit obstacles.

Abadi’s proposed cabinet reshuffle and reform plan, after weeks of protests led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr over corruption, lack of public services and a gloomy economic picture, has been met with fierce resistance. A plan for a government of technocrats to replace party-affiliated minister is great in theory but impossible in practice in the complicated landscape that is Iraq.

Are these relatively unknown technocrats, who lack any real clout or influence, really going to sway dominant parties who rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds?

More importantly, the great focus of the U.N. and international powers on Baghdad’s struggles by promoting stability and providing significant military aid and financial assistance merely ignores the equally difficult plight of the Kurdistan Region.

Whilst the region may not have experienced the same social unrest or public protests seen in the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan has been operating under great constraints for over 2 years. If the dramatic decline of oil prices hit Baghdad hard then this is only amplified for Kurdistan where budget payments were already frozen by Baghdad putting pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) long before IS arrived on the scene, refugees arrived in droves and oil prices tumbled.

Erbil’s fight against IS is no less significant than Baghdad’s, and the West should not just respond to whoever creates the biggest social or political commotion.

Kurdistan deserves an entitlement of all aid provided to Baghdad including its own financial assistance package from the international community.

If Baghdad has limited cards at its disposal to turn the economy around, then the KRG has a much tougher hand to work with. For example, the KRG cannot control value of the Iraqi currency or raise debts on financial markets.

Of course, the urgent need for financial assistance in Kurdistan should not mask the need to continue its reform drive. The economy is overly reliant on oil revenues, there is a lack of a tax regime, there a need for greater transparency and far too much of the population relies directly on government salaries.

The Peshmerga, who are at the heart of the coalition war on IS, do not receive salaries in months as with much of the population. If this scenario was mirrored in the U.S. or E.U., there would be great chaos and unrest.

The Kurdish population has been fairly resilient so far, but patience when families are affected so deeply, can only stretch so far.

KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani recently urged for coalition partners to provide budgetary support, warning that the crisis facing the region had made it one of the “most vulnerable entities in the coalition.”

Which government in the E.U. would not suffer if they had over million refugees to support, crippling revenue streams, insufficient international support and a war on its door step?

The crisis is bound to impact the fight against IS and the current cycle cannot continue.

Talabani stressed that reform measures had cut the monthly deficit to $100 million, but further support was now needed. “It’s important for our friends around the world to realize that this threat facing Kurdistan … is real and without immediate direct support the experiment of Kurdistan is in danger,” warned Talabani.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Rise in oil prices should not mask economic cracks and need for reform in Kurdistan

Oil is the paradoxical treasure and curse. For oil producing countries, exporting oil at a high price normally results in revenue windfalls with enough to assemble large cash reserves.

But this is where the oil curse strikes. It becomes too easy to rely on your immense oil reserves as a simple and effective source of income. But when prices plummet as they have done in recent months, hardship strikes, economic woes kick-in, budget deficits are rife and social upheaval inevitably settles in as the economy goes in decline.

All oil producing countries have felt the bite in falling oil prices, even Saudi Arabia with its huge cash reserves is suddenly feeling the pinch. But for Kurdistan, the economic bite from falling oil prices was much sterner for a number of reasons.

The region was already struggling to pay salaries, even before the decline in oil prices, as Baghdad froze budget payments. Add a fierce war with the Islamic State (IS) that has dragged on for almost 2 years and 1.8 million refugees into the mix and the situation becomes even more fraught.

To compound matters, any attack on its oil pipeline through Turkey quickly leads to an even bigger crisis.

Oil exposes cracks in economies and Kurdistan is no different. Heavily reliance on oil revenues has crippled the region and any country whose fortunes are merely dependent on the spot price of oil is bound to be gripped by turbulence, instability and lose control of its destiny.

So what happens when oil prices begin climb as they inevitably do when they have bottomed out? Oil prices have climbed from 12 year lows to just over $40 a barrel in recent weeks. As welcome as the rise may seem, does Kurdistan breath a huge sigh of relief and look forward to brighter times again or does it truly address the numerous economic cracks that the decline in oil prices have exposed?

Simply put, an ambitious Kurdistan with eyes on independence needs wide economic reforms. Any rise in oil prices should not transform the horizon as the stability and welfare of any country, particularly one surrounded by so much regional fire and volatility, should never be tied to a daily commodity chart that can radically swing.

Kurdistan needs to divest its economy and source of revenues. The overwhelmingly reliance on the population for government salaries is untenable even if the oil prices reach new heights and there needs to be a sustained drive towards self-sufficiency.

When oil prices were high and economy activity was in full swing, the countryside slowly emptied and the cities became more crowded. Kurdistan has a strong reliance on imports for basic goods and its agriculture sector, the bread basket of any economy, needs to be urgently bolstered.

Oil will no doubt remain a key source of revenues for Kurdistan and further declines in economy based on any future drop in oil price is inevitable but by taking new economic reforms, the region will have a much better cushion to ride out the storms.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurds omitted from Geneva III as US and Russian jockey to build bases in Syrian Kurdish territory

As the Syrian war enters its 6th year, months of preparation to cultivate another round of negotiations between Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition could still unravel.

Just days before the talks were due to commence, there is fervent debate on who should attend the talks as well as various other pre-conditions still been set.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that was created in December after a Syrian opposition conference in Riyadh is deemed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey as the only representatives of the opposition.

The age-old problem in Syria’s brutal war is deciding who the opposition is, with literally dozens of groups and just who are the moderates.

Russia has been jockeying for involvement of other Syrian opposition parties that are aligned to their strategy and that the HNC deems as too close to the regime.

But of all the groups, the omission of the Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the most controversial. The PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have proved to be the most effective fighting force on the ground and have made steady gains against the Islamic State (IS).

The Syrian Kurds have been heavily backed under the cover of United States warplanes and are the only group that both the U.S. and Russia can agree on.

Turkey has been ever suspicious of the rising stock of the Syrian Kurds and the ramifications of their increased autonomy.

In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated warnings that they will not tolerate any expansion of Kurdish territory west of the Euphrates and deem PYD as no different to IS or the PKK.

And this is where the contradictions intensify. The remaining IS corridor to the Turkish border can be easily sealed with coalition support and YPG forces. But for an anxious Turkey facing a renewed Kurdish war at home, IS still remains a more manageable entity than Syrian Kurds assuming most of its southern border.

In parallel to the Syrian Kurds facing the reality of no invitation to Geneva III, there have been widespread rumors in recent days that U.S. has been working to expand a disused former airbase in Rmelian, Hassaka, in the heart of Kurdish territory and in close proximity to Turkey and Iraq.

Whilst the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has stated it ‘has not taken control of any airfield in Syria’, other statements were not as definitive as a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”.

Either way, for a concerted move on Raqqa and even Mosul, opposition forces need greater logistical support from the U.S. led coalition than the usual airdrops.

If Ankara was feeling unease with the U.S. reports, then similar reports of Russian troops and a team of engineers in Qamishli looking to expand the airport and build a Russian base there would hardly have helped.

Whilst the US has tip-toed around both its key allies in Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, Russia does not have this problem and after relations nosedived with the downing of a Russian jet in November by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds remain a vital card for Moscow.

Any notion of a Russian military base in Kurdish territory would send a strong warning to Turkey.

It remains to be seen if PYD will attend the peace talks. Both the HNC and Turkey have insisted that if PYD does join, then it would be on the side of the regime. Turkey has even threatened to boycott the talks if PYD becomes part of the “official” opposition.

The differing stances of the Syrian Arab opposition, U.S., Russia and Turkey towards the Kurds will create another time-bomb if the Syrian Kurds are side-lined. Even if elusive peace is achieved, what then for the Syrian Kurds? Do you disregard their strategic importance against IS? Or do you even take moves to take away their autonomy or not include them in a future political framework?

With so many opposition groups and as many ideals and goals, and the crucial Kurdish position, Syrian troubles will continue long after Assad is gone.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The Allies Must Help Kurdistan in Economic Downturn

With plunging oil prices, fight against Islamic State and thousands of refugees, allies must support Kurdistan but financial aid should be coupled with reforms

Oil is a black gold that all is too great when prices are sky-high. It can easily balance the national budgets of many a country. At the same time, an inefficient and unbalanced economy can be easily papered over with the huge windfall from oil revenues.

The oil honeymoon of recent years when prices were at record highs is now replaced by rattled markets and oil based economies who have continuously revised down expectations of the floor in oil prices.

Even low-level estimates of $45 USD a barrel priced in for many 2016 national budgets is been rapidly revised with current prices of $30 USD a barrel.

The ramifications of the oil price drop can be felt across the Middle East but none more so than the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan was already feeling the burden of financial constraints in 2014 as Baghdad halted budget payments. The first half of 2015 was hardly much better as budget disputes with Baghdad meant that Kurdistan was left with no choice but to resume independent oil exports.

But this isn’t any normal economic crisis. The financial crisis has intensified at a delicate and unprecedented juncture for the region. Kurdistan is at the heart of a vicious war with the Islamic State (IS) that naturally warrants significant expenses in addition to catering for 1.8 million refugees and internally displaces persons that need food, medicine and shelter.

Simply put, the Kurdistan revenues are insufficient to cater for refugees, Peshmerga, military equipment and supplies and public wages with the majority of the people directly relying on salaries from the government.

The current revenues are largely from oil sales but one must not forget that this oil is not been pumped for free. The International Oil Companies operating in the region under already tight financial regimes must be paid.

An obvious solution is of course to pump more oil, but since prices have continued to tumble, this is hardly a rewarding ploy and at the same times the upgraded infrastructure to do this costs significant money.

All these factors point to an unsustainable situation for the region. The economic cloud should not mask the need for economic reforms, decreasing the heavy reliance on oil revenues, tightening of budgets, implementing new tax reforms, reducing the high dependence on imports and of course addressing the heavy reliance on the state for salaries.

However, the current situation is simply unmanageable and Kurdistan needs to be supported by the United States and its key allies at this difficult juncture. Iraq, with its own financial conundrums, can hardly be relied on or trusted to come to the aid of the Kurds.

Kurdistan cannot ignore 1.8 million refugees nor can it lighten its burden against IS. Kurdistan must be given the credit it deserves at the forefront of the coalition fight to oust IS from Iraq and Syria.

It must be given the military aid and financial assistance required to shore up its finances but at the same time must embark on an extensive economic reform programme of its own to safeguard and own its destiny.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc